Morris, fought for humane confinement of prison inmates
Norval Morris, the Julius Kreeger Professor Emeritus in the Law School, former Dean of the Law School (1975-1978), and founding director of the Law School’s Center for Studies in Criminal Justice, died Saturday, Feb. 21. He was 80. Morris, a resident of Hyde Park and a Law School faculty member since 1964, was an internationally recognized expert on the criminal justice system and prison reform.
“Norval was our good friend, our colleague and an extraordinary human being, and we are all the better to have had him in our lives,” said Saul Levmore, Dean of the Law School and the William B. Graham Professor.
In his 1974 Cooley Lecture at the University of Michigan, Morris offered a scholarly vision of prison reform and described how an ideal prison for serious offenders might be structured. His proposal was implemented shortly thereafter by the Federal Bureau of Prisons at a new penitentiary at Butner, N.C., and other facilities, and it remains a model for humane confinement.
Morris, regarded as among the most influential writers in the field of criminal justice, was the author, co-author or editor of 15 books and hundreds of articles during his 55-year academic career.
His Law School colleague Albert Alschuler, the Julius Kreeger Professor in the Law School, said Morris’ 1990 book, Between Prison and Probation: Intermediate Punishments in a Rational Sentencing System, written with Michael Tonry, is “perhaps the most-cited scholarly work in criminal justice. Norval inspired me and his many disciples in things personal and professional,” Alschuler added. “He was who all of us wanted to be, and he made us better than we would have been without his care and shaping. Yet none of us—and no one we knew—came close to matching his extraordinary combination of energy, wit, insight, wisdom, adventure, generosity, compassion, dedication and loving spirit.”
His frequent scholarly collaborator, professor Michael Tonry, director of the Institute of Criminology at the University of Cambridge, noted, “many gifted people, of whom Norval Morris was one, are generous. Not so many are genuinely modest, as he was. During the last 20 years of his life, he often said, and seemed (albeit mistakenly) to believe, that people whose careers he helped make and shape had surpassed him. He said this with a sense of joy, not sadness, in a mood of celebration, not regret. I am but one of many people whose private and public lives are different and better than they would have been had we not been fortunate to come under his influence.”
Though Morris had impeccable credentials as a legal scholar, he was equally adept at fiction writing. In the 1950s, Morris had served as chairman of the Commission of Inquiry on Capital Punishment in Ceylon, and he used this experience to write The Brothel Boy & Other Parables of the Law, which examined a range of ethical and legal issues.
His final book, Machonochie’s Gentlemen: The Story of Norfolk Island and the Roots of Modern Prison Reform, combines fictionalized history and critical commentary to tell the story of a retired naval captain’s four-year transformation of a brutal British penal colony into a model of enlightened reform.
Morris was born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1923. Following service in the Australian army in World War II, he completed LL.B. and LL.M. degrees at the University of Melbourne. In 1949, he received a Ph.D. in law and criminology and was appointed to the Faculty of Law at the London School of Economics.
Subsequently, he practiced law as a barrister in Australia and held academic appointments at the University of Adelaide. He later taught in the United States at Harvard University, the University of Utah, the University of Colorado and New York University. From 1962 to 1964, he was founding director of the United Nations Institute for the Prevention of Crime and Treatment to Offenders (Asia and Far East), and for his service, the Japanese government awarded him the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasure, Third Class.
When he took professor emeritus status in 1994, Morris volunteered as a consultant and advisor in the Law School’s clinical programs. “In this capacity, Norval continued to help us teach law students how to be effective advocates for persons in institutions,” said Mark Heyrman, Faculty Director for Clinical Programs of the Arthur O. Kane Center for Clinical Legal Education in the Law School. “He was completely committed to using the law to make the world a better place, particularly for persons in prisons and in mental hospitals, and generations of lawyers and scholars on at least three continents are in his debt.”
Beyond his academic career and his advocacy for prison reform, Morris also was the publisher of a small weekly newspaper in Maine; a fierce amateur tennis player; a private pilot; a lifelong devotee of chess; and a participant in entrepreneurial ventures.
Morris is survived by his wife, Elaine Richardson Morris; three sons, Gareth Morris, Malcolm Morris and Christopher Morris; and three grandchildren, Madelyn Morris, Emily Morris and Gregory Morris. Contributions may be made to the University of Chicago Law School, to benefit the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic.
Members of the Law School faculty will celebrate the life of Morris Wednesday, March 31, from 4 to 6 p.m. in the Law School’s Green Lounge. A reception will follow the memorial, at which Morris’ colleagues, friends and family will make their remarks. For further information, call Lucienne Goodman at the Law School, (773) 702-0877. The Law School is at 1111 E. 60th St.